40-year study sees steady rise in pregnant women's blood pressure

Blood pressure in pregnant women is on the rise.
Blood pressure in pregnant women is on the rise.

Over the past four decades, the US has seen a sharp rise in the number of pregnant women with high blood pressure, new research reveals.

For the study, the researchers analysed data from about 151 million hospitalisations between 1970 and 2010 to determine the rates of chronic high blood pressure in pregnant women aged 15 to 49.

Risks for both foetus and mother

Chronic high blood pressure was defined as high blood pressure before pregnancy or during the first 20 weeks of gestation. The researchers used a lower measurement – 140/90 – than the 130/80 benchmark that now brings a high blood pressure diagnosis.

High blood pressure poses risks for both foetus and mother. It increases the odds of stillbirth, as well as the mother's risk of preeclampsia (life-threatening high blood pressure during pregnancy), stroke, heart failure and heart muscle disease, kidney failure and death.

Nearly 1 million (0.63%) of the women had chronic high blood pressure during pregnancy, and the rate rose steeply over time – from 0.11% in 1970 to 1.52% in 2010, a more than 13-fold increase, according to the report.

Since 1979, the rate increased an average of 6% every year, the study findings showed.

White women had a slightly higher annual increase (7%) than black women (4%), but black women were more than twice as likely to have high blood pressure during pregnancy.

The report was published in the journal Hypertension.

Older mothers more at risk

"Women who already have high blood pressure and are planning to become pregnant should work closely with their health care provider to closely monitor and manage their blood pressure, especially during pregnancy, to reduce the serious health risks to both themselves and their unborn child," study author Cande Ananth said in a journal news release.

Ananth is chief of epidemiology and biostatistics in the department of obstetrics, gynaecology and reproductive sciences at Rutgers Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

He noted that older mothers were more likely to have chronic high blood pressure.

"Since more women are electing to postpone their first pregnancies, and advanced maternal age is strongly associated with chronic high blood pressure, women should be aware of the risks associated with having high blood pressure during pregnancy," Ananth said.

Image credit: iStock

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